Updated: Oct 25, 2021
I would like to begin my journey with a story from when I was 12 years old, it was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my life. I learnt so much about myself and the reality of the world. The words patience, resilience and compassion are integral to my reflection of this adventure, the message I wish to put forward correlates back to these three words in unique ways. So it begins..
When I was 12 years old, I received the opportunity to trial for 3 of the best youth academies in Portugal. I sent a video to Portugal through family friends of myself at nationals representing Victoria, it was passed on to Sporting Lisbon and F.C Porto. Both clubs responded to my father by email and offered flight tickets and a 2-week trial period at each respective club. I can still remember that morning as if it was yesterday, my father barged into my room and said "Luc's guess what, Sporting and Porto want to see you, we are booking tickets to Portugal." As a 12-year-old I was so shocked, going to Europe to train with clubs I only ever heard about on TV felt surreal. One day to the next my tickets were booked and it was preparation time, training everyday was only but exciting, my confidence amongst my teammates back in Australia was through the roof but it wasn't too long until the intrinsic cognitive athlete in me started to ask dangerous questions "What are the players going to be like" "will they be able to speak English" "What if no club wants me" "will my parents be disappointed if I don't make it?". As young boy it was very daunting confronting these questions, it was the first time I had considered the idea that I might not be good enough. Anyone who knew me at the time would definitely say I had a big personality, confidence is one thing most would never have thought I lacked. The consistent thinking of thousands of potential outcomes became my biggest battle, the anxiety of all the hypothetical negative outcomes easily would override the excitement of the potential positive outcomes. The thought of not being good enough turned into this overwhelming need for an excuse to justify for myself in the situation that things didn't work out, to explain to the people around me who supported me why I couldn't achieve that which my potential promised.
The day finally arrived and I was off, entering the unknown together with my father. Upon landing in Portugal, I was filled with emotion, excitement, nerves and overall confusion, I believe mainly due to the jet lag. I had a couple days to adjust myself to the jet lag and recover from the flight before the first day of training at Sporting Lisbon. My father and I used this time to explore Lisbon and get to know the potential city in which we might be moving to. Before I knew it the day was here, I couldn't explain the nerves in words, what scared me most was having to enter a change room of strangers who couldn't even speak English. I remember walking up to the training ground and the guide from sporting who had been appointed to show me around, pointed at a field in the distance and said, "that is where you train". I looked over and saw a couple players already warming up, I looked at my father and said they are the u12 player's, these lads presented themselves with beards and filled out bodies like someone in their mid-twenties. My father looked at me and said, "I'm sure that those are just the coaches", they were most definitely not the coaches. My entire perception of the world was damaged, since when do 12-year-olds look like grown men, how the hell do I compete? The training was a blur. The players were not necessarily better than me they just were used to things I wasn't. At the time I couldn't make this very simple segregation between my ability and the reality of my environment. I allowed it to make me feel as if I was not sufficient, after about a week of training at sporting they said to me kindly thanks but no thanks. I tried to do the best I could to shrug it off, but it only reinforced the negative scenarios I had run through in my mind on a daily basis leading up to the news. I didn't have much time to dwell as next up was a trip to the north of Portugal to Porto. Whilst driving on this trip, my dad received a call to say S.L Benfica had heard about me coming over and were interested in seeing me. In my mind it was a breath of fresh air, I could train at Porto with a little less pressure knowing it wasn't my last chance.
I arrived in Porto; I had a day to settle then the following day I was to report to the training ground. This time I was a little bit more prepared, I knew the player’s would be big, aggressive and fast so all I had to do was adjust, nothing else could throw me off right? Upon arriving to the training grounds, I was overwhelmed with the professionalism. Sporting's u12 were training at a university in Lisbon, Porto’s u12 trained at Olival which was their main football campus, it was beautiful. I walked into the grounds received my training clothes and entered the change room anxiously to see what I was competing with. To my great surprise these u12 players didn't look like men but u17 players so I was okay with it, I straight away gained a-bit of confidence from that fact and took it out with me on the field. The training started and all seemed fine until we started a small game, first competitive drill of the training session. I remember clearly receiving the ball, taking on one player and then the second, by this stage I could feel my body lighting up with confidence, as I was about to play the ball “BOOM” I get kicked so hard from behind, fouled in a manner I had never experienced. I turned and looked at the coaches, they looked at me laughing and said, "get up Australian", I straight away was rattled beyond measure, not only do they not understand age groups here, the rules are even different! I felt straight away isolated and targeted, although this is very much the nature of football, it was nothing I had ever experienced, I grew up understanding a very fair game, things worked very different in Portugal and I had to adapt to many things at one time. After that first session the rest of the week was a right off as I knew my fate, not only did I not play very well, I also didn't want to stay there because simply I didn't like it. It was like that homesick feeling in your gut, I just knew it wasn't the place for me. Although psychologically exhausted, I still had hope for Benfica, I kept saying to myself, there is no ways all this happened, coming here, will be for nothing, it just can't be. One thing Portugal had taught me besides 12 year old men exist and football can be played with no rules was one very important word that every aspiring athlete should master, that is RESILIENCE. I had no choice but to pick myself up, look forward and take my next opportunity as it came.
The day of my first training at Benfica I spent the day walking around near Lisbon, got a haircut and just tried making myself feel as calm as possible, even though eating was the biggest struggle as the nerves took complete hold of my body. Walking into (Seixal) Benfica's training ground was rather warming, everything was red, grass fields were in perfect condition plus a beautiful view of the Tagus River. I walked into the change room and introduced myself, as I took my seat to get changed a figure walked up to me and said, "are you Australian?" I looked up and noticed this Australian English was coming from a player. He continued to introduce himself and mentioned he was also Australian but had moved over 3 years prior therefore was also fluent in Portuguese. My heart could have jumped out of my chest with excitement, finally something familiar, someone to talk to, finally some help. The moment I arrived at Benfica I had that gut feeling I was going to play there, I loved the environment, the feeling it gave me was of optimism so all I had to do was prove why I deserve to be there, easy right? Training was a disaster, this time I just choked, I made simple mistakes, I didn't run, I allowed my fear and nerves to takeover and ruin me. After training I got into the car and my parents just broke down in-front of me, they were devastated with my attitude and how I trained, they purely couldn't understand what happened to this player who had promised so much. I was depleted, the one place I found that I could see myself growing in and I blew it, not only blew it, disappointed my family and once again reinforced all those negative thoughts. I had been on a negative road allowing these thoughts and feelings to predict my future, I allowed one experience to dictate how I see myself. In psychology it’s referred to as the heart attack moment, although not as severe but similar symptoms. I realised if I do not change, I would make everything I once dreaded a reality. I knew I had one more session to change my fate and take control over my life. The next day I turned up and pretended I was in Australia, I ignored social status, size and even physical appearance. All I did was turn up and do what I would normally do in Australia. After the session one of the scouts came up to my dad and said, "this your son?" he responded "yes", "I really liked what I saw, I want him to train a couple more days, if he shows the same promise, I'm signing him." I could have screamed at the top of my lungs with happiness, although I still needed to prove myself I now had an idea of how to do it, I also had the confidence of someone in me that I had not felt in a fairly long time. I took that confidence and ran with it, after the next couple days I returned to Australia. Benfica had decided to sign me and I was to return to Portugal for the following season.
When reflecting on my trip a little older and a little wiser, I dissected my emotions and correlated them with good and bad performances. One thing I found imperative was confidence and environment, two things that go hand in hand. The moment I felt more comfortable, in a more familiar environment I was able to perform, for example Benfica was the final club on my trip so I had about 4 weeks to familiarise myself with Portuguese football, also Benfica held a fellow Australian who was able to translate for me. Ability to perform is very much based on mental state, prior to Benfica I had no self-belief due to my judgement of how I had performed, I never considered why I performed like that? at that time it was very black and white, you train good today you are good, train bad tomorrow you are bad, obviously this is not true. A player without confidence can be the greatest illusion, as can a player with an outstanding amount of confidence. Many young players neglect context when evaluating themselves and their performance, it is important to understand that expecting a lion to survive in Antarctica isn't realistic. Therefore, when judging yourself or your performance have compassion, if you are not considering the full picture you are becoming a threat to yourself mentally. It is imperative you do not fall into the negative cycle of endless outcomes. Allow yourself the time and patience to adapt. Be resilient and believe in yourself because if you can do it in the heart attack moment you can do it at any.